Reporting a crime

Telling the police

If you witness a crime you have a vital role to play in bringing the criminals to justice.

If you witness a crime you have a vital role to play in bringing the criminals to justice. You may well be feeling upset and have doubts about reporting what you have seen. There is no legal obligation to contact the police, but the information you give them could bring a criminal to justice. Reporting the crime to the police could prevent further crimes being committed and protect others from becoming victims.

The criminal justice system can only work effectively with your help.

There are several ways to report crime to the police:

  • Emergencies: In an emergency you should phone 999 and ask for the police
  • Non-emergency situations: In non- emergency situations you should contact your local police station by phone or go to the nearest police station with a front desk
  • Anonymous: If you wish to remain anonymous you can report a crime to Crimestoppers by phoning 0800 555111 or by visiting www.crimestoppers-uk.org and completing the online form

The police take all crime seriously; you can expect them to listen to you, treat you with respect and take a statement. They will also be able to put you in contact with organisations that can help you like Victim Support.

Giving a statement

A witness statement is your written or video recorded account of what happened to you. A police officer will ask you questions and write down what you have said. You will be asked to read it and sign it with your name. When you sign a witness statement you are saying that you agree the statement is a true account of your experience. Your witness statement may be used as evidence in court.

You should be given the name of the officer taking your statement and their rank and number. You should also be given the name of the officer who will be in charge of the case and their contact details. This may be the same officer who takes your statement..

You will be given a leaflet 'Giving a witness statement to the police - what happens next?' This leaflet explains who to contact to find out how the case is progressing and what happens next.

Sometimes people are afraid of making a witness statement. They worry that they will be intimidated by the offender or their friends. This is very rare.


Investigating crime

Police investigations can take a long time. It may be several months before you hear anything about the case.

The next stage is investigation, where the police gather evidence. The police may ask you to tour the area where the offence happened to help identify the offender. They may also ask you to look at photographs or attend an identity parade.

Police investigations can take a long time. It may be several months before you hear anything about the case.

Once the police have completed their investigation, the case is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS then decide whether to charge the suspect.

The difference between the police and the CPS

  • The police: The police arrest and question, they gather evidence and take witness statements.
  • The CPS: The CPS is responsible for charging and prosecuting, they decide if the evidence is good enough to go to court.

Victim's personal statement

In addition to giving a witness statement you can, if you want to, give a victim personal statement. This gives you the opportunity to say how the crime has affected you personally.

In addition to giving a witness statement you can, if you want to, give a victim's personal statement. This allows you to include anything you have not said in your witness statement and could include the following:

  • How the crime has affected you physically, emotionally or financially
  • Whether you feel vulnerable or intimidated
  • If you are worried about the defendant being given bail
  • Whether you are considering claiming compensation
  • Anything you think may be helpful or relevant

The statement can be made at the same time as your witness statement and can be added to at any point before the court hearing. It will become part of the papers the court sees; including; the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the defence, and the magistrates and judges at the courts. This will enable staff to give you help you throughout the case.

If you are a child or a vulnerable adult, your parent or carer can make the victim personal statement for you if you want them to.

If the case goes to trial, you could be asked questions about your statement in court. You could be asked about how the crime has affected you, or about any loss, injury or damage you have suffered.

Once you have made a statement, you can't withdraw it or change it. However, you can always make another statement that clears up or changes something you said in an earlier statement.


Intimidation

Witness intimidation is very rare. If you are worried about intimidation there are several things that can be done to help.

Witness intimidation is when an attempt is made to threaten or persuade a witness not to give evidence to the police or courts, or to give evidence in a way that is favourable to the defendant. In most cases, the offender will be the defendant or the defendant's family or friends. It is generally considered that intimidation is more likely to follow offences of violence, particularly domestic violence and vandalism.

A further form of intimidation may be thought of as 'cultural intimidation'. This occurs where family or friends of the victim or witness try to dissuade him or her from assisting in an investigation or an inquiry. There may be a variety of reasons for this including bringing shame on the victim's family. In addition, there may be norms of behaviour within a culture for dealing with criminal matters that do not involve the formal agencies of the criminal justice system.

Section 51 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 creates two offences:

  • s.51(1) creates an offence directed at acts against a person assisting in the investigation of an offence or is a witness or potential witness or juror or potential juror whilst an investigation or trial is in progress; and
  • s.51(2) creates an offence directed at acts against a person who assisted in an investigation of an offence or who was a witness or juror after an investigation or trial has been concluded.

The offences are triable either way. In the magistrates' court, the maximum penalty is six months' imprisonment and/or a fine to the statutory maximum. In the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is five years' imprisonment and/or a fine.

Such offences go to the heart of the administration of justice. If there is sufficient evidence of witness intimidation the public interest requires that normally such cases should be prosecuted.

Intimidation is very rare. The Crime Survey for England and Wales: Year ending September 2015 found that 'people being intimidated, verbally abused or harassed' had risen to 3.5% from 3% in the previous survey from October 2013 to September 2014.

Find out more about the ONS Crime Surveys for England and Wales


Protecting Witnesses

There are a few ways to try and protect witnesses:

  • Criminal and civil proceedings can be taken against the intimidators who could then face jail
  • Specialist hand and security alarms can provide additional security
  • In rare cases anonymity can be granted; and
  • In very serious cases and extreme circumstances witnesses can be afforded witness protection and relocated to another part of the UK and even change their identity.

If you are worried about intimidation you should talk to the police.

Find out more about witness protection and anonymity


Decision to charge

Once the police have completed their investigations, they ask us for advice on how to proceed. We decide whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

Role of the Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the independent public authority responsible for prosecuting people in England and Wales who have been charged by the police with a criminal offence.

In undertaking this role we:

  • Advise the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • Review cases submitted by the police for prosecution in accordance with the principles in The Code for Crown Prosecutors
  • Consider the alternatives to prosecution in appropriate circumstances
  • Where the decision is to prosecute, determine the charge in all but minor cases
  • Prepare cases for court
  • Present those cases at court.

Once the police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to us for advice on how to proceed in all but the most minor and routine cases. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

The Crown Prosecution Service does not act for victims or the families of victims in the same way as solicitors act for their clients. We act on behalf of the public and not just in the interests of any particular individual.

Our prosecutor will read the file and consider the two tests laid down in The Code for Crown Prosecutors, which sets out the basic principles that crown prosecutors must follow when making prosecution decisions. These tests must be applied in every case.

The evidential test

The prosecutor must first decide whether or not there is enough evidence against the defendant for a realistic prospect of conviction.

This means that the magistrates or jury are more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge. If there is not a realistic prospect of conviction, the case must not go ahead, no matter how important or serious it may be.

It is the duty of every Crown Prosecutor to make sure that the right person is prosecuted for the right offence. In doing so, Crown Prosecutors must always act in the interests of justice and not only for the purpose of obtaining a conviction.

The public interest test

If the crown prosecutor decides that there is a realistic prospect of conviction they must then consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute the defendant. While the public interest will vary from case to case, broadly speaking the more serious an alleged offence the more likely it will be that a prosecution is needed in the public interest.

A prosecution is less likely to be needed if, for example, a court would be likely to fix a minimal or token penalty, or the loss or harm connected with the offence was minor and the result of a single incident.

The interests of the victim are an important factor when considering the public interest. Crown Prosecutors will always take into account the consequences for the victim and any views expressed by the victim or victims' family.

Deciding not to prosecute

If the crown prosecutor decides that a prosecution should not go ahead, the case will be stopped, usually by what is called 'discontinuance'. Unless there are special circumstances which mean that it is not appropriate to do so, you will be told the reasons for the decision to stop the case.

Often the hardest decision can be to conclude that there isn't enough of a case to go to court, even where the public favour a prosecution.

The decisions made by the CPS are based on publicly available, clear and visible legal guidance.

If a prosecutor decides not to bring charges against a suspect, discontinues proceedings or offers no evidence in a case, you have a right to request that we review that decision under the Victims' Right to Review scheme. Details of how to request such a review can be found elsewhere in this section of the website.


Keeping you informed

Once a charge has been brought the police will pass your file on to your local Witness Care Unit. They ensure that victims and witnesses are kept at the centre of the criminal justice system. The Witness Care Unit manages the care of victims and witnesses from the point of charge through to the conclusion of a case. They are staffed jointly by representatives from the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Witness Care Unit will allocate you a dedicated witness care officer. Your witness care officer will act as your single point of contact and will keep you informed of the case's progress, from the point of charging the suspect, to sentencing or acquitting the defendant.

Your witness care officer will assess the needs of all victims and prosecution witnesses where defendants have pleaded not guilty. This helps to identify specific support requirements, such as childcare, transport, language difficulties, medical issues and to highlight areas of concern, for example if you feel that you may be subject to intimidation.

They will continuously review your needs throughout the duration of the case. They will also, along with volunteers from the witness service, provide practical and emotional support.

Statutory obligations

Under The Code of Practice for Victims Of Crime, the Witness Care Unit has a statutory obligation to:

  • Tell you if you will be required to give evidence
  • Tell you the dates of the court hearings
  • tell you how you can access the 'Witness in Court' leaflet or other relevant leaflet, if you are required to give evidence
  • Tell you about court results and explain any sentence given within one day of receiving the outcome from the court.